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Scaled-back wind farm up for public comment  

A scaled-back version of a large wind farm planned in Valley County northwest of Glasgow was released Monday for public comment.

The developer wanted a 500-megawatt facility, but the new plan calls for 170 at the Valley County Wind Energy Project project.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management asked for a revision after environmentalists complained about the wind turbines being too close to the Bitter Creek Wilderness Study Area, said Gary Evans, the CEO of GreenHunter Energy Inc.

“They requested, politely, we scale it back and push the turbines away from the boundary between our leased property and that of Bitter Creek,” Evans said.

GreenHunter is a publicly traded renewable energy company based in suburban Dallas that owns Wind Hunter LLC, the developer of the Valley County project.

Some of the turbines that had to be moved were strategically located along the border of the Bitter Creek, where the best wind was, Evans said. As a result of the changes, “we lost some prime real estate.”

The original plan called for 337 wind turbines but 114 are planned now, Evans said. The turbines would be 390 feet tall and spread across 6,756 acres of private, state and federal land.

Estimated capital costs of the $520 million project have been revised downward to $250 million.

Conservation groups have raised concerns about habitat fragmentation and the visual impact to the area’s wide-open viewshed.

Evans, however, said “there’s really nothing there.” Community support for the wind farm remains strong, he said.

“Had it not been for those landowners and residents in the area continuing to push, we probably would have gone someplace else,” Evans said.

The Valley County Wind Energy Project project would be located 30 miles northwest of Glasgow. With the changes, it calls for a 170-megawatt wind farm and a 69-kilovolt-transmission line.

The original plans called for a 500-megawatt project and a 230-kilovolt line.

“We’d rather have a smaller, scaled-back project than no project at all,” Evans said.

The state’s largest wind farm at Judith Gap can produce up to 135 megawatts of power.

The BLM and Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation on Monday issued a draft finding that the revised proposal would have no significant impact on the environment.

The public has until May 4 to comment.

John Fahlgren, the manager of the BLM’s Glasgow Field Station, said the revised plan “is an attempt to meet all the parties’ needs and desires related to this wind farm, and that includes the public’s concerns.”

The agencies also released a supplemental environmental assessment, which became necessary after developer Wind Hunter LLC decided to downsize the project following the complaints.

Under the revised plan, Fahlgren said there’s 15 acres of public land that would be permanently disturbed. The closest BLM and state land that would be involved in the project is a mile from the wildernesses study area, Fahlgren said. A few towers located on private land are a half-mile from the Bitter Creek, he said.

Mark Good of the Montana Wilderness Association, which objected to the size and location of the project as originally proposed, said the border of a wilderness study area is not an appropriate place to put 400-tall turbines.

“I’m not opposed to wind-generated power. Just the opposite,” Good said. “But I think it’s appropriate to talk about the location of transmission lines and wind farms.”

Reach Tribune Staff Writer Karl Puckett at 791-1471, 800-438-6600 or kpuckett@greatfallstribune.com.

greatfallstribune.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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